Okay, I have to admit I’m a big fan of Cronenberg’s and have been for quite awhile. It’s also kind of nice that he is from my home town of Toronto and likes filming in Canada whenever he can.
While his ventures into the world of horror have been extreme and horrifying, they have also proved to be thought provoking and just as much psychological scares as visual.
My introduction to Cronenberg’s work was in 1981 when I saw the movie Scanners. It was really hard to pass up the idea of seeing people with telepathic and telekinetic powers making other people’s heads explode. Of course, it was much more than that, a kind of conspiracy and espionage story that involved very powerful people with mental abilities that were quite frightening. I liked what I saw enough to go back to Cronenberg’s earlier work and see what else he had done.
His first feature film in 1975 was Shivers and it’s one of my favorites. It may be a bit dated now, and it certainly has that 70’s look, but I enjoyed the whole story of man made parasites infecting an apartment complex, created by a doctor with twisted ideas on what humanity is and should be. The movie has some brutal scenes early on, including a woman having her stomach cut open and acid poured inside in an attempt to kill the parasites. This was a great use of blood and gore to tell a good story and would become Cronenberg’s signature in the early years of his career.
Cronenberg’s next movie was Rabid, released in 1977. The story centered on a woman who, after being in a motorcycle accident, was forced to undergo surgery. Very normal, except for the fact she develops an opening in one of her armpits that hides a stinger which she uses to feed on other peoples blood. If that’s not enough, the people she decides to snack on then become what can only be described as rabid zombies, who in turn spread the disease to the next victim until things become completely chaotic.
Maybe with the current obsession with zombies will get people to give this movie a second look. It has some great moments and some really tense moments.
In 1983, Cronenberg had two films for the public to digest, Videodrome and The Dead Zone. First up was Videodrome, a sort of early version of reality TV/voyeurism depicting the public’s consumption of violent images. Watching this movie makes me wonder how influential it was in later movies like Saw, Hostel and the whole ‘torture porn’ movement.
The broadcast signal that is discovered and shows incredibly violent imagery leads to people beginning to hallucinate and second guessing what is real and what is not. What makes this movie even more disturbing is that this scenario of hallucinations could actually happen, especially with the amount of violence we visually digest on a daily basis.
With David Cronenberg directing a movie based on a Stephen King novel and starring Christopher Walken, The Dead Zone seemed to be a film that couldn’t fail. Released in October of 1983, the movie didn’t disappoint.
This movie was definitely in the psychological horror category. Waking up from a coma with the ability not only to see the future but to change it is one hell of a mental anchor to weigh and wear you down. Walken was great as the tortured soul trying gamely to deal with the new power and all of the consequences that came with it.
In 2002, a TV series was made from The Dead Zone story starring Anthony Michael Hall. It lasted five seasons but could not capture the sense of dread and despair as depicted in the book and movie.
Cronenberg’s trip down horror lane hit its peak in 1986 with his movie The Fly. It was a commercial and critical success and as a fan of horror I must say this movie worked in many ways and on many levels. It’s quite a feat to combine the horrors and gore involved in Seth Brundle’s transformation with the simplicity of a tragic love story. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis gave outstanding performances and the special effects crew who helped show us the slow transformation of Brundle into a fly was fantastic.
However, it was Cronenberg who kept it all together, using his skills as a director/storyteller to make us wince and cringe while feeling pity and sadness at the same time. A great movie showcasing Cronenberg at the top of his game in the horror world (too bad they had to make a sequel, but I guess that was inevitable).
Since The Fly, Cronenberg has left most of the visual horror behind, opting instead to film more psychological thrillers or dramas. While they might not be horror in the purest sense, his movies definitely make you think and still make you cringe.
There is a part of me that wishes he would have directed a big blockbuster movie, just for the sake of more recognition (He was once considered by George Lucas to direct Return of the Jedi, and he worked on Total Recall for a year before creative differences with producers forced him to step aside).
However, I am just as happy that he didn’t sell out and continues to make movies that he wants, no matter the commercial appeal. Let’s hope he challenges us to think about what we are watching for years to come.